Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Movies: Tropic Thunder

Here we have another comedy that doesn't live up to its potential, thanks to the excesses of farce. To reiterate a point I've made before, I have nothing against farce per se, but instead, a certain brand of overacted farce-cum-slapstick we've seen growing more and more popular, as opposed to the more sly and witty form to be found in, say, Waiting for Godot (of course, any contemporary big budget film is going to be a far cry from the spare delight of Beckett, but I use him to mark a point on a farce continuum: a point from which we are wandering ever farther).

This is a bigger disappointment in a film coming from (the brilliant physical comedian) Ben Stiller and featuring (the shockingly capable) Robert Downey Jr. and (the almost-always delightful) Jack Black. Every quality moment is a tease that ends too soon and lapses into tediously hyperbolic absurdity. The only real crux of social relevancy in this film is Downey Jr.'s character, an Australian award-winning method actor who has undergone cosmetic surgery to play a black character in the movie within the movie (conveniently also titled Tropic Thunder). His interactions with the only other black character (an actual black) are funny and fascinating and incredibly on point at this juncture in which black culture is being completely appropriated by whites. In case anyone is thick enough to miss this, the point gets hammered home when Tom Cruise and Bill Hader, the studio head and his assistant, perform a twisted, offensive, but ungodly funny dance to a hip hop track in order to illustrate the kind of wealth which with they are tempting Stiller's character's agent (Matthew McConaughey).

Seriousness aside, the movie is packed thick with incredibly funny performances: McConaughey is Rick Peck; Nick Nolte is Vietnam Vet Four Leaf Taybeck (who never actually fought, and never actually went overseas); Steve Coogan is jerky director Damien Cockburn; Tom Cruise is assfucker studio head Les Grossman, and Danny McBride, even though I hate him, is semi-competent explosive technician Cody. I just wish that, given all that star power, I didn't find myself regularly rolling my eyes.

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